Nick Jones
All too often elections to the European Parliament have been reduced to not much more than a snapshot of the popularity of each national government.  When the United Kingdom votes to elect 72 MEPs -- in what The Times says is the election that “never happened” -- British voters seem destined to give a good kicking not just to the Labour government of Gordon Brown but also to the entire political establishment. After four weeks during the which news media has been dominated by an unprecedented scandal over abuses in the expenses and allowances paid to MPs at Westminster, European issues have barely registered in the press, television and radio. Newspapers renowned for their Euro-scepticism have continued to print alarmist stories about the damaging repercussions of EU policies and the ineffectiveness of the European Parliament, but their impact has been limited and they have failed to generate a wider debate. Although there has been a greater degree of activity around the websites of pro and anti-European groups, most of the political chatter in the blogosphere has been concentrated on the ongoing revelations being made by the Daily Telegraph about the endemic abuses of MPs’ expenses.  Similarly most of the comments posted on newspaper websites have concerned the Telegraph’s disclosures about the contents of the data leaked from the House of Commons fees office rather than the future direction of the European Parliament.    Nonetheless because of the depth of public disgust over the extravagant and in some cases potentially fraudulent claims made by MPs from the main political parties, many electors have spoken openly of their intention to support fringe parties including the United Kingdom Independence Party and the British National Party, which are both committed to seeking British withdrawal from the European Union.  As both UKIP and BNP might well be the beneficiaries of what could be a significant snub to the established parties, Britain could end up delivering a hefty anti-European protest vote, which pro-Europeans have had little chance to counter. One recurring theme in Euro-sceptic newspapers like the Sun has been a parallel campaign to expose abuses in the expenses claimed by member of the European Parliament.  “Clean up EUR act” was the Sun’s front-page headline (26.5.2009) over an exclusive report revealing that “greedy MEPs” could claim up to £363,000 a year without a receipt. Alongside the same report on the front of the Sun’s website – www.thesun.co.uk – there was an invitation to “click here” to sign the Sun’s petition calling for an immediate general election. The Sun changed tack three days before polling day and urged its readers to “vote Tory” as this was only effective way to ensure a referendum was held in Britain on the EU constitution. Such was the disarray within the government over Gordon Brown’s disastrous opinion ratings that the Sun’s endorsement of the Conservatives caused barely a ripple, but it was the clearest indication so far that Rupert Murdoch’s largest-selling newspaper will abandon Labour at the general election. Earlier in the campaign for the European Parliament, newspaper columnists had complained about spiralling EU expenditure.  “We must derail the grandfather of gravy trains”, was the line taken by William Rees-Mogg in the Mail on Sunday (17.5.2009), which mirrored the contribution of Stuart Wheeler in the Sunday Express (17.5.2009): “Vote to halt the EU gravy train”. Alone among the nationals, the Daily Express claimed there was a “secret plan to dump £ and force Britain to use Euros” (2.6.2009).   But the last word should go to The Times (3.6.2009) which said that instead of delivering a verdict on the way Britain’s relationship with Europe had been handled, the campaign for the European Parliament had been the “election that never happened”. Like its stable mate the Sun, The Times told its readers that the Conservative Party “merits supports” because it was the only party that had called for the EU to respond to issues like climate change rather than engage in “pointless internal deliberation” over measures like the Lisbon Treaty.  In backing the Conservatives, The Times gave another indication that Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers are in the process of abandoning Labour after supporting Tony Blair in three general elections.